Halloween! Why is it celebrated?

This image was taken by NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory in October 2014. The image blends two sets of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths. The active regions of the Sun appear brighter. Credit: NASA/SDO.
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HAPPY HALLOWEEN! The Sun is watching you! This image was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory in October 2014. The image blends two sets of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths. The active regions of the Sun appear brighter.

Let’s talk about Halloween.Our whole existence, in fact everything alive on this planet is because of that big ball of energy around which we orbit – the Sun. And all our seasons and festivals have their origin in the way the Earth’s orbit around our star brings about the different seasons, such as Autumn/ Fall or the end of the harvest season.

(Read about the Arrival of the Sun Festival)

 

A jack-o'-lantern, one of the symbols of Halloween. Posted by 360onhistory.com

A pumpkin jack-o’-lantern, one of the symbols of Halloween

Roman Goddess Ceres. Posted by 360onhistory.com

Roman Goddess Ceres

Harvest festivals have been celebrated all over the world by many cultures since the beginning of agriculture. The end of the harvest season signifies plentiful food, end of toiling in the fields & general merriment. Differences in climate & crops mean harvest festivals can be celebrated at various times at different places. Over the course of history they have evolved into different traditions and customs like Thanksgiving in North America & mid-Autumn Festival in China. The Yam Festival or Iwa ji is celebrated in west African countries like Nigeria, Ghana  and other African countries in August and September by the Ewe and Igbo people, to celebrate the end of rains and first appearance of yams, symbolizing the conclusion of a harvest and the beginning of the next work cycle. The Jewish people celebrate Sukkoth the “Festival of Ingathering at the year’s end”, marking the end of the harvest time. Mehregan was an ancient Zoroastrian tradition practiced in Persia. The Roman celebration of Cerelia which is a harvest festival was dedicated to the honor of Ceres, their goddess of corn.

There are many others. Onam is an annual Hindu harvest festival celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala. The Egyptians gave thanks to Min and the Greeks to Demeter (Goddess of Agriculture). The Mid-Autumn Harvest Moon Festival is also celebrated in China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Mooncakess are shared with family and it is also a time of courtship.

Chinese Harvest Moon Festival. Posted by 360onhistory.com

Chinese Harvest Moon Festival

Igbos in diaspora celebrating Iwa-Ji in Dublin, Ireland. Posted by 360onhistory.com

Igbos in diaspora celebrating Iwa-Ji in Dublin, Ireland

Indonesian Rice Harvest Festival. Posted by 360onhistory.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile in the Southern Hemisphere, the harvest festivals happen in May/June. The Indonesian Rice Harvest Festival actually happens in May, at the end of the rice harvest. Among other things small straw dolls are placed in the fields & villages as a tribute to the rice god, Dewi Sri. 

And now we come to what Halloween really is. In Britain, Samhain (pronounced Sew-win or sa-win) is a Gaelic festival that initially used to be celebrated by the ancient Celts (different people who lived around 2,000 years ago in Ireland, Britain and France), to mark the end of summer, the end of harvest and the start of the darker half of the year. Cattle were brought down from summer pastures as well. Bonfires were lit. The souls of dead family were also thought to visit. Disguising (guising) or dressing as someone/something else was part of the festival and people went door to door singing in exchange for food. When the Christian church shifted All Hallows/All Saints day (vigil to commemorate the saints) to this time in the seventh century, Samhain & All Hallows traditions merged and we got Halloween. In Samhain, bornfires were traditional sympathetic magic, mimicking the Sun & getting rid of harmful influences. Apple bobbing was a common game. Guising also warded off malevolent visitors from the other world & eventually evolved into playing pranks.

Jack o Lantern made with turnip. Posted by 360onhistory.com

Jack o Lantern made with turnip

The guisers illuminated the night with turnip lanterns (Jack o’lantern), whose grotesque faces were thought to ward off malevolent spirits. Originally, the Irish myth was that a man known as Stingy Jack had tricked the devil and was punished by being compelled to roam the Earth with just a burning coal in a turnip for light. The mass migration of Scottish and Irish people to America in  the 19th century, popularised Halloween there. The jack o’ lanterns started being made with pumpkins. And then the Americanised version spread everywhere else. Most of the original Samhain customs became part of Halloween.

 As far as I am concerned any festival to have a bit of fun is awesome! Be safe & enjoy. Happy Halloween everyone! Below is the Ghost Head Nebula.

 

 

NGC2080 Ghost Head Nebula. Credit: Mohammad Heydari Malayeri Observatoire de Paris et al /ESA/ NASA. Posted by 360onhistory.com

NGC2080 Ghost Head Nebula. Credit: Mohammad Heydari Malayeri Observatoire de Paris et al /ESA/ NASA

Featured image credit: NASA/SDO.

 

 

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I am a Chartered Environmentalist from the Royal Society for the Environment, UK and co-owner of DoLocal Digital Marketing Agency Ltd, with a Master of Environmental Management from Yale University, an MBA in Finance, and a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Mathematics. I am passionate about science, history and environment and love to create content on these topics.

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